Diaphragmatic Breathing: Techniques and Instructions
Note. This website uses words "diaphragmatic breathing" and "abdominal breathing" interchangeably (as synonyms). Technically speaking, there are separate groups of muscles that can stretch or expand the lower parts of the lungs. However, since the purpose of breathing retraining is to improve body O2 during automatic breathing (not during breathing exercises only), this division on diaphragmatic breathing and abdominal breathing is practically insignificant. When people have low O2 content in body cells (less than 20 s), they suffer from chest breathing. With more than 30 s for body O2, Nature ensures diaphragmatic breathing 24/7. Many yoga teachers, however, teach about divisions and even subdivisions of abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing, but they do not know and do not teach their students about the purpose of yoga. These are usually the same yoga teachers who claim that breathing more air improves body O2, and that CO2 is toxic waste gas.
Many modern yoga teachers can teach diaphragmatic breathing exercises for years, yet their pupils will not have automatic diaphragmatic breathing during sleep or at rest. The reason is very simple. Their methods to not address the cause of chest breathing: too fast and too large breathing causing low body and brain oxygenation. This page explains how to get basal diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing 24/7 is necessary for ideal oxygenation of the arterial blood (about 98-99%) and efficient lymphatic drainage of abdominal organs (up to 60% of all lymph nodes are located just under the diaphragm).
The ideal automatic breathing pattern at rest is very slow, light, and mainly abdominal (diaphragmatic breathing). Such small diaphragmatic breathing increases oxygenation of the human body. Yoga masters and a few other exceptional people have only 3 small diaphragmatic breaths per minute at rest (during unconscious breathing). This corresponds to about 3 minutes for the body-oxygen test and over 8 minutes for maximum breath holding time.
When we breathe more than the medical norm at rest (that is only 12 small diaphragmatic breaths per minute with about 500 ml for one breath), it is called hyperventilation. If deep diaphragmatic breathing causes CO2 losses, it is called "hyperventilation". Hyperventilation or deep diaphragmatic breathing reduces oxygen delivery to all vital organs in the human body. Note that sick people breathe about 2-3 times more than the medical norm and suffer from low CO2 in the lungs and reduced O2 levels in body cells (see links below). You may have a brief moment of even additional hyperventilation (on top of what you have now) when surprised or reading a good quote for bad credit auto loans but this shouldn't concern you if it doesn't last long.
How to test your own breathing technique
How to check one's predominant automatic breathing technique? Do you usually breathe using the belly and diaphragm or chest at rest?
Self-test or simple breathing exercise. Put one hand on your stomach (or abdomen) and the other one on your upper chest (see the picture on the right). Relax completely so that your breathing dynamic has little changes. (We want to know more about your usual unconscious breathing.) Pay attention to your breathing for about 20-30 seconds. Take 2-3 very slow but deep breaths to feel your breathing in more detail.
Now you know about your usual breathing technique. In order to be certain, you can ask other people to observe how you breathe when you do not pay attention to your breathing (e.g., during sleep, while reading, studying, etc.).
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises and techniques
Here are three abdominal breathing exercises to test and develop diaphragmatic breathing.
Exercise 1. Diaphragmatic breathing exercise to check your ability to move the diaphragm
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise 1: Check your ability to move the diaphragm. Put your hands on your body as in the picture above. Try to push out your lower hand (which is on the belly button or navel) with your abdominal muscles. Can you breathe using your belly only so that your rib cage and upper hand do not move?
Warning. It is vital for your health, abdominal breathing, good blood oxygenation, and respiratory and GI health to have a straight spine 24/7. Correct posture encourages abdominal breathing, while slouching prevents belly breathing.
Exercise 2. Abdominal respiratory exercises with books
Take 2-3 medium weight books or one large phone book and lie down on your
back with the books on your tummy. Focus on your breathing and change
the way you breathe so that
1) you can lift the books up about 2-3 cm (1 inch) with each inhalation and then relax to exhale (the books will go down when you relax to exhale)
2) your rib cage does not expand during inhalations.
Repeat this diaphragmatic breathing exercise for about 3-5 minutes before your main breathing exercises to reconnect your conscious brain with the diaphragm. You can practice this exercise for some days until you are sure that diaphragmatic breathing is the usual way to breathe during the breathing sessions.
For some people with persistently tense diaphragms, who in addition have problems with slouching and constipation, magnesium can be an additional assisting factor.(A lack of magnesium leads to spasm and tension in body muscles.)
If the diaphragm is still not the main muscle for your automatic breathing, and/or you have doubts about your ability to keep your chest relaxed during breathing exercises, apply this ultimate solution.
Exercise 3. Diaphragmatic breathing technique with a belt
You can use a strong belt to restrict your rib cage and force the diaphragm to be the main breathing muscle using the following technique.
Put a belt around your lower ribs (in the middle of the trunk) and buckle it tightly so that you cannot take a deep inhalation using your rib cage or chest. Now for slow deep inhalations your body needs to use your tummy (or abdomen). Try it. While leaving the belt in place for some minutes or even hours, you can acquire diaphragmatic breathing and corresponding sensations.
This breathing retraining process will be faster, if you focus your attention on your breathing and try to practice Buteyko reduced breathing with very light air hunger (taking small inhalations using your diaphragm and then immediately relaxing it). The focus of attention makes nervous links between your conscious mind and the diaphragm reinforced so that you can regain control of this muscle.
When you pay attention to your breathing, be careful not to hyperventilate. Breathe slowly and remain relaxed so that even if your inhalations deepen, your CO2 will not lessen.
Important note. The diets of modern people are low in magnesium, which is a known relaxant of smooth muscles, the diaphragm included. The normal daily requirement for Mg is about 400-500 mg. Typical symptoms of magnesium deficiency include: a tendency to slouch (indicating muscular tension), predisposition to constipation (muscles of the bowel also get into a state of spasm; hence "Milk of magnesia" or magnesium oxide is a popular and safe remedy for constipation) and tense diaphragm, causing chest breathing 24/7. Try taking a Mg supplement (about 400-500 mg daily plus calcium to maintain a proper balance) for 3 days and monitor your symptoms and any effects on your posture, breathing mechanics and CP. (See more about this 3-day test in the manual Major-Nutrients Guide for higher Body-Oxygen Levels.)
You need to restore a light and easy automatic breathing pattern or normalize your breathing in order to have abdominal breathing 24/7. What are the most effective abdominal breathing techniques? Hatha yoga and the Buteyko breathing technique help to prevent chest breathing. There are even more effective ways listed below.
Advanced diaphragmatic breathing exercises for unblocking the diaphragm
The easiest way, however, to increase the CP and release or unblock the diaphragm 24/7 is to use breathing devices, such as the Frolov breathing device and the Amazing DIY breathing deice. If one has problems with abdominal breathing when using these devices, it is smart to use the belt technique for breathwork. After a few days of such practice, most people can easily involve the diaphragm for breathwork.
Why modern people do not have diaphragmatic breathing
Modern people breathe about 2 times more air than the medical norm (see Homepage for details). Hyperventilation causes alveolar hypocapnia (CO2 deficiency), which reduces blood flow and oxygenation of the diaphragm muscle, while arterial hypocapnia makes smooth and skeletal muscles tense, the diaphragm included. If you were to take a close look at some old movies, you would hardly see any chest breathing at all. This is because people in the past had only 4-5 L/min for minute ventilation at rest (modern numbers are about 12 L/min for normal subjects). Hyperventilation makes modern people oxygen deficient (see instructions for the body-oxygen test below) and this makes them chest breathers. Therefore, diaphragmatic breathing is very rare these days.
Diaphragmatic Breathing vs. Chest Breathing
and Body-Oxygen Content
|Body-Oxygen Content||Automatic breathing at rest:
diaphragmatic or chest?
|1-10 s||Virtually always chest|
|11-20 s||Chest in over 90% of people|
|21-30 s||Mostly chest|
|31-40 s||Mostly belly|
|over 41 s||Virtually always belly|
As we see from this Table, diaphragmatic breathing usually becomes the norm (24/7), when the morning body-oxygen level (CP) is over 30 s. It is logical then that people in the past (about 100 years ago or more) had abdominal breathing 24/7 because they had more than 40 s for the body-oxygen test.
Since relatively healthy people have only about 20-25 s CP these days, most people are chest breathers.
Why diaphragmatic breathing is rare
Link to this video: Why Modern People Do Not Have Diaphragmatic Breathing
Relevant web pages
Diaphragm function (What are the main jobs of the diaphragm in the human body)
Why most modern people do not have diaphragmatic breathing (This article explains causes of chest breathing in modern people)
Why breathing should be mainly diaphragmatic at rest (There are 2 fundamental physiological reasons why chest breathing produces devastating health effects)
Why normal breathing is shallow (or light and easy: slow and small in tidal volume).
Reference pages: Breathing norms and the DIY body oxygen test:
- Breathing norms: Parameters, graph, and description of the normal breathing pattern
- Body-oxygen test (CP test) : How to measure your own breathing and body oxygenation (two in one) using a simple DIY test
References: pages about CO2 effect:
- Vasodilation: CO2 expands arteries and arterioles facilitating perfusion (or blood supply) to all vital organs
- The Bohr effect: How and why oxygen is released by red blood cells in body tissues
- Nerve stabilization: Carbon dioxide has powerful calmative and sedative effects on brain neurons and nerve cells
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